In the dead of night, darkness shrouds a remote and forgotten corner of the world, the Coos Bay mental institution where this 2010 John Carpenter movie, The Ward, takes place.
In this place of torment and suffering, behind its thick brick walls and iron gates, lurks the sinister, looming shadow of a story no one wants to tell.
This story opens with the arrival of Kristen, a traumatized and bloodied young woman whom authorities lock up in the institution’s women’s section after she sets fire to a house.
Soon, Kristen discovers she is not alone in her imprisonment: she shares her cell with four other girls, Emily, Sarah, Zoey, and Iris, each plagued by her inner torments and demons.
The girls live in this maze of dark corridors and rooms under the constant surveillance of a rude nurse and the enigmatic doctor Stringer, who seem to have sinister plans for the patients.
Soon, they all begin to perceive a ghostly presence, a monstrous-looking, deformed female figure who becomes increasingly menacing and violent.
Bringing to light the secrets and sins each girl hides deep in her heart, this monster creeps into the protagonists’ minds, destroying them one by one.
Is it really the ghost killing them, though, or is Dr. Stringer conducting some experiment that crosses the line?
Whatever the case, Kristen decides she has had enough and organizes a nighttime escape to get away with her new friends before it is too late.
As this story nears its climax, fear and nightmares buried in a mind ravaged by fear will no longer deny that painful truth that is causing it all.
Decades of Horror, Still Nailing the Chills
The Ward is a 2010 movie bringing back the essence of the old-style horror thriller, a recipe made famous by John Carpenter in the 1970s.
Far from today’s easy frights and jumpscare, the movie immerses us in a mood of terror and suspense, evoking a sense of nostalgia for the genre’s fans.
Carpenter stays faithful to his compelling and unmistakable style, bringing to the screen familiar themes that never tire the viewer.
However, the desire to watch more horror like this remains unsatisfactory, as The Ward represents, so far, the last feature directed by this great master of American cinema.
The screenplay by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen is as simple but powerful as the director’s framing and stylistic choices. The plot unfolds compellingly with only a few clever twists and turns, keeping the viewer glued to the screen.
Although it features a few moments of violence, the story focuses mainly on creepiness and psychological terror rather than blood and cruelty.
Yaron Orbach‘s cinematography, with its grimy, vintage style, gives a gloomy, decadent atmosphere that fits perfectly with the psychiatric hospital environment. This style contrasts with modern digital cleanliness, maintaining an aura of mystery and tension that permeates the entire film.
Finally, Patrick McMahon‘s editing blends harmoniously with Mark Kilian‘s music. The narrative pacing is well balanced, without excess or forcing, and the sad and tragic melodies integrate perfectly with the images without ever being intrusive or annoying.
Ultimately, whether or not it is one of the lesser movies in John Carpenter‘s long career, this work deserves to be seen and appreciated by all enthusiasts of high-quality cinema.
Terrific Cast Delivering Terrifying Roles
Building on the institute-mental genre standards of films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Girl, Interrupted, Carpenter sculpts a perfect character for the wonderful Amber Heard.
Fortunately, enough time has now passed since the scandal and trial against Johnny Depp, so I hope that even the most obsessed fans can talk peacefully about what, in my opinion, has always been an excellent actress.
Regardless of personal events irrelevant in the context of this article, Ms. Heard perfectly expresses the tenacity of a deeply disturbed girl with a convincing and angry performance.
Moreover, in the dark and dirty squalor of the hospital setting, her beauty radiates even brighter, along with the other actresses playing the unfortunate girls locked up.
All of them are an essential complement to the main character and give life to crazy but believable characters with the faces of Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, and Lyndsy Fonseca.
Undoubtedly, the most iconic scene remains when these girls forget their fear for a few minutes, dancing together to the rhythm of The Newbeats‘ fantastic Run Baby Run in a moment of liberation and joy, providing a brief respite in the rising tension.
However, with Carpenter’s priceless artistry, the scene immediately fades into horror when the lights go out and the monster arrives on the stage again.
Not only is the mysterious ghost of the girl, but also the excellent Jared Harris as the psychiatrist remains delightfully ambiguous to the end.
This aura of mystery and uncertainty makes The Ward a deft blend of darkness and light and represents John Carpenter‘s significant 2010 return to directing a movie after nine years.
So much was since 2001’s equally underrated Ghosts of Mars, entertaining sci-fi remake of the celebrated Assault on Precinct 13 that kicked off his career.